TCSD Conversation: May 2017 – Steve Sutherland

2012 USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony – from left to right – Judge Jones, Dave Scott, Scott Molina, Mark Allen, Chuck Graziano, Kat Donatello, Steve Sutherland, Scott Tinley.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently talked triathlon with long time TCSD member and USA Triathlon Age Group Committee Chairman Steve Sutherland.  Steve gives a ton of his time to our sport and he is absolutely someone you should know, despite occasionally wearing his bike helmet backwards.  I know you will enjoy reading Steve’s story and getting to know this great guy.

Craig: What sports did you do while growing up?

Steve: I was born near Ventura, and grew up as the oldest child in a large family. My Dad was an officer in the US Navy so we moved around every couple of years, mostly in California and Hawaii although we did spend a few years in Washington DC, Maryland and Rhode Island. When I was an infant we lived in Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach and Mom took me to the beach from the very start. My mother always encouraged us to go outside and play, I think in part because raising five active kids with Dad away constantly at sea or on assignment was a real challenge. Organized sports became an important part of our lives. My brothers, my sister and I all played baseball, basketball, track and field sports, and because we always lived by the ocean, swimming and surfing became a big part of my life. As a family we also hiked, camped, fished and were always encouraged to try out new things. We all grew up associating active outdoor sports as a very natural thing. And as we got a little older, our bicycles became a staple form of transportation. I was also fortunate that my parents strongly believed in teaching children to swim at an early age; my first swimming lessons happened around the same time that I learned to walk. I competed in surfing contests, got on the podium a couple of times and even toyed with the idea of trying to make the pro tour, but I knew deep down inside that I wasn’t nearly that good. My involvement in sports and sports competition has continued in one form or another continuously since then.

Craig: What was your first triathlon experience like?

Steve: For many years, my friends told me to try out triathlon. One of the first times I recall being encouraged to sign up for a race was around 1980. I rode my bike to The Plunge for a swim, and someone I knew suggested that since I biked and swam a lot, and competed in other sports, that I might want to sign up for triathlons. The idea sounded a little farfetched at the time, and it wasn’t until 2002 that I decided to put the time and energy into training and competing in a local race. My training was based on an eight-week plan on paper that I bought from Mrs. T’s. Even with good prep I was still quite naïve about racing but there I was at the Mission Bay Sprint in the fall, giving it my best shot. When I stood up at the end of the swim I felt dizzy and almost fell over. I took forever in transition getting out onto the bike course, and when I was about halfway around Fiesta Island I started laughing like crazy, with the sudden thought that “Holy cow, I’m really doing this!”  For the transition to the run, I was again slow, carefully pulling on calf length basketball socks and Nike basketball shoes before doing a slow shuffle out to the run course. When I finally crossed the finish line I knew I was hooked.

Craig: When did you join the TCSD and what has your membership meant to you?

Steve: At that first race I met Jim McCann, and he strongly encouraged me to come to the next TCSD meeting. I met a lot of very enthusiastic and supportive people at that meeting, and I knew that this was a resource that I absolutely needed if I was going to get better at triathlons. I think the club only had about 300 active members then but they were all very involved and their enthusiasm was contagious. It was an easy choice to decide to join the club. I have been a regular attendee since 2003, and I credit our club and our terrific members with a big part of my evolution as a multi-sport athlete. The free workouts, the club races, and the overall supportive nature of our membership are priceless. And I’ve made many friends through the club, including Bill Dusting, Tony Berg, Gary Sowell, Charlie Szentisi, Mike Plumb and many more.

Craig: You have been very involved in USA Triathlon over the years.  When did that relationship begin and what have been some of your highlights?

Steve: I joined USAT in 2003 after reading a short article about the Age Group Committee (AGC) in Transition Times, the precursor to the current USAT magazine. Chuck Graziano was seeking volunteers, I reached out to him and told him that I was still a newbie at the sport but I wanted to help if I could. My background in my professional life was a good fit for the type of committee work and support that Chuck needed. Almost immediately I was tapped to help create the USAT Hall of Fame. We are all very proud of that accomplishment. We selected our first class of inductees in 2008, and we now have over 40 individuals in the Hall of Fame including a number of TCSD members such as Bob Babbitt, Jim Curl, Paula Newby-Frazier, Scott Tinley and the late Jim McClaren. Chuck and I also helped create the Athlete of the Year Banquet (with a lot of help from Kat Donatello), and I spent a lot of energy streamlining and improving the selection process for our Athletes of the Year (AOY’s). Our next project was getting USAT lifestyle awards defined and awarded, which we called the Multisports Awards (Lifetime Achievement, Volunteer of the Year, Comeback of the Year, etc.) I took over leadership of the Age Group Committee three years ago, and we continue to work on issues that directly impact our membership. In addition to the projects I mentioned above, the AGC is responsible for coordinating and moderating the Annual Town Hall Meeting held at the National Age Group Championships, administering a grant program for education in rules and safety, assisting with the administration of the National Rankings process and assisting in the Hall of Fame selection and induction process. We’ve tackled Clydesdale/Athena issues, initiatives to increase the number of race officials, and concerns brought to us by age group members. I write the annual committee report that we submit to USAT. None of these successes would have happened without the full support we receive from Rob Urbach, Tim Yount, the USAT staff and the USAT Board of Directors.

Craig: I suspect a lot of thought went into creating the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame.  What went into making sure our Hall of Fame fit our sport?

Steve: Chuck Graziano was very passionate about that project. There were three of us (Chuck, Michael “Judge” Jones and I) who were the primary drivers of the effort, but of course many other people also contributed. One of the first moves I made was to call 19 other halls of fame and find out how they operated including what rules governed selection of members, how did they honor those inductees, did they have a physical presence, and so on. And some of those halls of fame are ones you’ve heard of (the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Football Hall of Fame, the NASCAR Hall of Fame), some were a natural fit for our sport (the Swimming Hall of Fame, the US Bicycling Hall of Fame) while others were regional halls of fame covering many sports, such as our own Breitbard Hall of Fame in the San Diego Hall of Champions at Balboa Park. What I quickly learned was that a hall of fame for our sport would be managed a bit differently than other sports. For instance, the US Gymnastics Hall of Fame requires that inductees either be retired from the sport or be over 30 years old. If we waited for triathletes to retire before considering them for the Hall of Fame, we would have a lot of posthumous awards because endurance sport athletes just don’t quit. And a lot of our best athletes don’t even reach their peak until they are well over 30 years old, so that rule wouldn’t work. We decided to recognize candidates in three categories: elite athletes, age group men and women, and significant contributors to the sport. Our first class of inductees was named in 2008, and included Judy Flannery (age group athlete), Jon Gray Noll (President of Triathlon Federation, the predecessor to USAT), Verne Scott (Dave Scott’s dad, who helped write rules, sanctioning guidelines, and too many other things to list here), Karen Smyers (elite athlete) and Sheila Taormino (elite athlete and Olympian in swimming, triathlon and equestrian). That first ceremony was held in Colorado Springs at the Broadmoor Hotel, and was a stellar affair. The bar was set high for all the subsequent induction ceremonies that followed. We’ve since moved the annual ceremony around to other cities, including an amazing night in San Diego in 2012 at the Bahia Hotel when we inducted Mark Allen, Ethel Autorino, Bob Babbitt, Sally Edwards, Scott Molina and Scott Tinley. Dave Scott was on hand that night, allowing us to honor the “Big Four” who really helped popularize triathlon. By the way, I have to mention the incredible amphora that Judge Jones created for the awardees. They are unlike any award I’ve ever seen and the inductees really treasure them.

Craig: The Athlete of the Year Banquet is another one of your creations.  What is that event like?

Steve: The Athlete of the Year and Multisport Awards Banquet is another one of our accomplishments that I’m very proud to have helped come to fruition. In 2011 Tim Yount came to us and discussed the possibility of a banquet to honor our athletes of the year as part of the national championship activities in Burlington, Vermont. Tim emphasized that we really had to hit it out of the park on our first go at this banquet or we would not have a second chance. We looked at possible venues for the banquet and settled on a dinner cruise on Lake Champlain. Tim and the USAT staff worked very hard to pull together the logistics with help from Chuck Graziano, Kat Donatello and I. The three of us took turns making the award presentations as the boat cruised on the lake right at sunset. We had about 125 attendees that year, and the feedback was terrific. During those first two years, we only had the Athletes of the Year as our awardees. Athletes were selected in triathlon and duathlon in overall, juniors, masters and grandmasters categories for men and women. When the national championships moved to Milwaukee in 2013, the decision was made to include our multisport winners as part of the banquet. This really put a different spin on the evening because the athlete of the year awards recognize purely athletic achievement whereas the multisport awards highlight the triathlon lifestyle. And it’s important to remember that many people come to our sport not to get on the podium, but to have a healthy lifestyle, to help them get over addiction, a personal loss or other challenges in life, or because they just enjoy the sport. Our multisport awards include Volunteer of the Year Award, Jeff Jewell Spirit Award, Military Sport Award, Most Inspirational Comeback Award, Spirit of Multisport Award and Lifetime Achievement Award. We have had some terrific keynote speakers as well, including Mark Allen and Chrissie Wellington. The attendees at that banquet in Milwaukee were really impressed with the stories behind the winners of those multisport awards, and many people told me after (and at our subsequent banquets as well) that the emotional content of that part of the evening’s presentation was what really left an impression.

Craig: What is USA Triathlon doing in the area of minority involvement?

Steve: USAT is interested in reaching out to underserved populations, including minority, youth, and women. We have been examining successful minority outreach programs that have been accomplished at the regional level, looking for those aspects that can be used at a national level. A great example is a program called “Strive To Tri” run by Tarus Nelson and his wife in Washington DC. His program involves after school and summer camps for disadvantaged youth. The program focuses on several key points: (1) how to introduce triathlon to youth; (2) how to deal with the economic pressures of the sport; and (3) how to have good participation so they keep coming back. Tarus’ program has been recognized at the county and national level. It involves 90 minute sessions, three days a week, and a six-week swim boot camp. The program is tied to USAT and helps to keep kids engaged throughout summer.  If I look around the room at any of our Tri Club meetings, I see a lot of people who look like me. We don’t have a lot of diversity in the sport. I find this especially unusual in San Diego where we have such a large Hispanic population and history. We helped create a survey to gauge the amount of outreach by regional and club organizations to underserved populations. The results of that survey are helping USAT shape our outreach programs.

Craig: What is USA Triathlon doing to educate it’s members to make smart and healthy choices in the area of anti-doping?

Steve: We are very concerned about doping and drug use in our sport, both from a race safety perspective and from a healthy lifestyle perspective. One challenge that we see is the legalization of marijuana. While certainly not a performance enhancing drug, marijuana is still a banned substance according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Because triathlon is an Olympic sport and USAT is the national governing body of that sport, we fall under the WADA and USADA guidelines. Marijuana is legal in many states and probably will be legalized in more states soon, yet it is still a banned substance under the rules that we must follow. It’s important to understand that when we talk about banned substances, they are banned “in competition”. That means the morning that you drive to the race, when you compete in a race, and when you drive home, you are “in competition”. We are not interested in criticizing or regulating anyone’s personal choices about lifestyle. There’s also a concern about the use of performance-enhancing drugs such as testosterone supplements by age group athletes, again in part because it impacts fair competition and in part because of health risks. Drug testing of competitors is expensive and the administrative/chain of custody process is very challenging, thus we need to find more cost-effective ways of dealing with this issue. I’m part of a task force that is evaluating initiatives that USAT can take to educate the membership. Anyone interested in looking at materials that are available right now for anti-drug education can go to the USADA website and view the free training available there.

Craig: What are some of your favorite destination races?

Steve: Lavaman on the Big Island! I’ve competed in the Waikoloa Lavaman twice and highly recommend it as a destination race. And wow, what a party at the finish line! I would fly over there for Lavaman every year if I could afford it. I also have great memories from Strawberry Fields (Oxnard), Vineman 70.3 (Sonoma wine country) and Lake Stevens 70.3 (near Seattle); sadly those races have been retired. Our USAT National Championship races are also a must for anyone looking for a challenging and fun destination race. The locations get moved around every couple of years, which I think is great. Most of our national championship races do not require qualification; in other words, you can just register for the race and compete, but remember that the level of competition in these events is far above what we experience here at local races.

Craig: I have raced USA Triathlon National Championships 16x’s in my career.  I love that event and wish more TCSD members would join in on the fun.  Nationals is in Omaha August 12-13.  Why would you recommend racing Nationals?

Steve: You can’t find a better venue for a high-quality race with outstanding competition than one of our national championships. The vibe of National Championship weekend is amazing, and you will really get pushed by top age group athletes at these races! The national championship you mention in Omaha is for Olympic and Sprint distance triathlon. We also have national championships for duathlon at Bend, Oregon; for Clydesdales and Athenas at Grand Rapids in June; for Youth and Juniors at West Chester, Ohio in August; for aquathlon at Austin, Texas in October; for aquabike and long course triathlon at Miami in November; and many other championship races. Just go to the USAT website and click on Events, then National Championships and you’ll see the full list with locations, dates, and links for registration. Our club has been very well represented at all the championship races every year, and we have a lot of members, like you Craig, who qualify for Team USA and represent the US at the world championship races.

Craig: You have done a lot of racing over the years.  What have been some of the funnier things you have been a part of?

Steve: During one of the first years that I competed in the Spring Sprint, I managed to put my helmet on backwards before I got out on the bike course. I didn’t realize I had done it and as I passed people and got funny looks I assumed it must’ve been because I was really doing well in the race.  It was only after the race when I saw the photos that the proof of my mistake was revealed. I still laugh about it a lot. I also did a minor goof while doing a trail race that helped come up with this piece of advice: Don’t wear your triathlon shoes with speed laces for an off-road race! During the Mission Trails Xterra race last year, I was wearing my triathlon shoes and when I stepped in a muddy spot the shoe stayed put, the speed laces gently let my foot slip out and I kept on running with just a sock on my foot. I had to turn around, fish my shoe out of the mud, hop around on one foot while putting the shoe back on, all while a sea of people were running around me. And of course, I was laughing the whole time. We can’t take our sport too seriously, almost none of us are getting paid to do it.

Craig: Who have been the most influential people in your life?  And what have been the most influential experiences you have had?

Steve: My Mom and Dad of course, for encouraging our participation in sports and outdoor activities when we were growing up. My siblings provided me with plenty of competition, and I’m laughing as I think of how competitive we made everything. In my business career I was lucky to have a couple of great mentors. In my late 20’s I worked for an aerospace company with Dan Curry, who showed through example and action how a person could be a great leader without being an overbearing bully. In my 40’s I had a fantastic mentor, Bob Schlesinger, who taught me a lot about building and growing a business, and whose advice I still hear sometimes in the back of my head. I’m lucky to have known my best friend Joe Bollinger for over 40 years, he’s always been there for me through thick and thin. And of course my wife Heather, my better and smarter half who has helped me have a rich, joyful life.

Craig: Who would you like to thank for your involvement in triathlon?

Steve: I’ve been blessed with a wealth of great friends who I’ve met through triathlon. At the top of that list has to be Chuck Graziano and Tim Yount, two of the best people you could ever meet. Many of the people I want to recognize are TCSD members, including Bill Dusting, Tony Berg, Charlie Szentisi, Bob Babbitt, Gary Sowell, and of course no list like this would be compete without mentioning Gerry Forman. I have to thank my coach for over a decade, Sergio Borges. And none of this would be possible without the love and support from my wife Heather, who has been there all the way, encouraging me, acting as my support crew, and giving me a big smile every time I finish a race.

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you change?

Steve: I would like to see some way to reduce the barriers that many people face when looking at triathlons, including the financial hurdle (equipment costs, travel expenses, high race entry fees). Another barrier that many people face is access to training facilities especially swimming pools, and with that swimming lessons. Many children face a lack of after school programs and cuts in funding for athletic programs. Some of these things that we take for granted are out of reach for a large number of people who could potentially join our sport.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Steve: I would like to keep racing for as long as I’m physically able and as long as it’s fun. I’m very fortunate to have good health and good supportive friends and family. And if by some chance I ever qualify for Kona or another world championship, that would be the icing on top of the cake.

Craig: Steve, thank you so much for sharing your story.  You have done so much for our sport.  The USAT and TCSD are both lucky to have you.  Keep up the great work!  Good luck keeping your shoes on during your trail runs and with all your other lofty goals.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

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LA Tri Series – Championship

Craig (2nd place) and Dominique Chipot (3rd place)

TCSD friend Chris Happ and Craig

On May 13th I raced the LA Tri Series Olympic Distance Triathlon at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas.  I had a good race as I placed 2nd out of 14 in the men’s 55-59 age group and 16th out of 212 overall finishers.  I got chicked by 2 women, 1 of whom was former 2008 Olympic triathlete and 2000 Olympic silver medalist in water polo, Julie Ertel.  There’s no shame in that!

I am finding as I age that the most important thing is just getting to the start line healthy.  With all the miles I’ve got on my body after 30+ years of racing, that is no easy trick.  I am learning to train a bit more moderately and just cruise through some workouts and save the big efforts for race day.  10 days prior to this race I hurt my neck lifting weights.  My neck has been a problem for the last 3 years.  It is particularly a problem trying to ride in the aero position on the bike.  So that’s my problem.  I’m sure the other guys my age have their own issues.  It is just a matter of learning how to manage the training to get to that start line.

Enough excuses.  On to the race!  The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was in a fresh water lake.  I had a good swim as I came out of the water in 3rd place in 24:20.

The 40K (24.8 miles) bike course was very challenging.  It was 3 laps of a hilly course.  My time was 1:18:07 which was the 4th best bike split and it kept me in 3rd place.  My 2017 bike time was 2:09 slower than in 2016.

The 10K (6.2 miles) run was also very challenging.  It was hilly and off road at times so I loved it.  My run split of 38:55 was the fastest run on the day.  My finish time was 2:24:27.  This was 2:09 slower than 2016 – the same delta as my bike split.

Sean Richardson was the guy who beat me.  We chatted after the race.  He was a very nice guy.  I did have a good race, but Sean smoked me by 9+ minutes.  He finished in 2:14:41.  He said this was going to be his last triathlon of the year.  I’m thinking the year has just started.

Living the life…

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TCSD Conversation: April 2017 – Monica Sberna

Monica Sberna and fiance Michael at 2014 Tri Fit Challenge in Columbus.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of getting to know Monica Sberna, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Triathlon Club of San Diego.  Monica has a huge heart as you will see with all the money she has raised for important causes.  You are sure to enjoy her story below.

Craig: What were your sports before triathlon?

Monica: I was one of those kids that played pretty much every sport at some point growing up, but mainly just for fun as I was always good, but never truly great at any.  In high school, I competed on the track team as a sprinter and discus thrower (I know…shocker), but I was always middle-of-the-pack and did it more for the comradery than the competition.  I also played intramural broomball in college, which I loved, but sadly I haven’t found too many opportunities to play since then.

Craig: What was the driving force that got you involved with Team in Training?

Monica: Having always been physically active in something or another growing up, I found myself in a weird place when I moved to Columbus, OH for my first job and had essentially nothing to do after work.  So a co-worker at the time told me about Team in Training, one of the largest endurance sports training programs dedicated to raising money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  At the time, I had no personal connection to those affected by blood cancer; but after attending one of their info meetings, I (almost foolishly) decided that I was going to raise $2,900 to run the Nike Women’s Half Marathon out in San Francisco, CA…because it sounded like fun.  And so I trained with coaches and fellow teammates to run my first half marathon in October 2010.

After that, I was hooked!  I originally joined Team in Training for the support system (coaches and planned workouts), but this organization truly changed my life.  Working in clinical research myself, I know first-hand how important it is to help fund life-saving research.  But most importantly, I have had the privilege of meeting so many amazing individuals who have not only touched my heart, but have inspired me to do more than I ever imagined I could.  So I continued to challenge myself, completing my first full marathon in 2011 (Nike Women’s Marathon), my first century ride in 2012 (Viva Bike Vegas), and my first sprint triathlon in 2013 (Wendy’s International Triathlon) all while raising an additional $7,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Craig: What was your first experience with triathlon like?

Monica: Having already signed up for the Wendy’s International Triathlon (sprint distance) through Team in Training, I decided I wanted to “get my feet wet” at a smaller triathlon to help calm some of those “first race” jitters.  So I signed up for a super sprint held at my alma mater, Miami University.  The race consisted of a 400m swim inside at the recreational center pool (serpentine fashion), followed by a 20K bike in and around Oxford, and a 5K run on Miami’s beautiful campus.  A picturesque course to say the least, had it not been a very cold, April morning in Ohio.

I remember being more nervous than I had ever been before while I was waiting to enter the pool.  And those nerves got the best of me as my swim ended up more doggie paddle than freestyle and I’m pretty sure I was the second to last swimmer out of the pool.  But I survived…only to realize in transition that I had forgot my full-fingered riding gloves I was planning to bring (now I always have a race-day checklist).  And sure enough, my fingers not only froze but went completely numb by the time I entered T2, which made trying to tie the laces of my running shoes nearly impossible.

I was so done with the race I started to cry, but my then boyfriend (now fiancé) Michael, standing helplessly outside of transition, continued to cheer me on.  So I wiped the tears from my face and started to run.  And somewhere along those 3.1 miles I suddenly came to realize that even though it wasn’t pretty, I was doing it!  I crossed the finish line with a big smile on my face and as they say, the rest is history.  I went on to complete 5 more triathlons that year, including two Olympic distances, and am so thankful to have had Michael there to cheer me on at every race I’ve done since then.

Craig: What was so special about the day you raced the 2013 Deer Creek Fall Challenge?

Monica: One of my favorite triathlon memories actually has nothing to do with the race itself.  In fact, it was actually one of my longest, most trying triathlons to date.  But a teammate of mine, Ralph, was attempting to complete his TNT Triple Crown (running, cycling, and triathlon event with TNT) all in one year, having just run his first half marathon earlier that spring.  I, on the other hand, was burned out from training and hesitant to even start the cold, late September race.  But when I showed up on race morning, Ralph, who had sprained his wrist two weeks prior, was still planning to race the Olympic distance; so of course I had no excuse.

We started the race in different waves, but as usual my swim took forever and once again I was one of the last participants out of the water.  So the goal at that point was just to catch Ralph so that I could present him with his Triple Crown at the finish line.  Easier said than done when you’ve been slacking on training, but I was determined to be there when he finished.  So I pushed myself on the bike and run in order to catch him and the hug I received when he crossed that finish line was one of my most rewarding race finishes to date.  A perfect example of how determination and passion can push you to do more than you ever thought possible.

Craig: You moved to San Diego in August 2014.  What fundraising events have you done since arriving here and what were those experiences like?

Monica: As I mentioned previously, I was very involved with fundraising for Team in Training when I lived in Ohio, so when I moved to San Diego I wanted to continue to fundraise for other organizations I felt passionate about.  So in 2015, I signed up to run the Disneyland Dumbo Double Dare as a St. Jude Hero.  That meant not only would I be running the Disneyland 10K on Saturday and Disneyland Half Marathon on Sunday, but I also committed to fundraise $2,000 for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  Still to this day, that was one of my favorite races as it was not only my first time at Disneyland, but I was able to honor 12 of my personal pediatric cancer heroes the first 12 miles, with the last 1.1 mile dedicated to all the pediatric clinical trial patients I worked with day in and day out at Rady Children’s Hospital.

Then later that year, a good friend who I had trained with for my first century ride lost his two-year battle with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and in his honor, a number of his friends and family formed The Purple TuTu Society.  While I won’t go into the reasons behind the name, this group of 38 individuals successfully raised over $92,000 for Pelotonia 2016, a two-day cycling fundraiser for the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, OH.  Unfortunately, I was not able to make the trip back to Ohio to ride with them, but I vowed to ride 100 miles once again to help honor Dan’s memory and raise money for cancer research.  So in 2016, I participated in San Diego’s own cycling fundraiser, Padres Pedal the Cause, committing to raise $1,000 to benefit local cancer research at the UCSD Moores Cancer Center, Rady Children’s Hospital, and more.

Craig: What did you learn from the century and half marathon you did on the same weekend last fall?

Monica: When I signed up to ride the 2016 Padres Pedal the Cause in honor of my friend Dan Weisenbach, little did I know it would turn out to be one of the most physically and mentally challenging weekends of my life.  Having already registered for a number of half marathons that year already, I was shocked to say the least when I learned that the event, previously held in September, had been moved to November, the day before the Silver Strand Half Marathon.   Not one to back down from a challenge though, I committed to finish both events in a test of both physical and mental fortitude, all while wearing a purple tutu in Dan’s honor.

I think the century ride for Padres Pedal the Cause was more mentally grueling than anything with over 7,151 feet of climbing in just under 10 hours.  In fact, I almost cut the route short (at the official turn-off) in fear I wouldn’t be able to finish before dusk.  But Dan was truly out there with me, telling me to keep going and that I could do it!  The Silver Strand Half Marathon the next day however was definitely a test of my physical endurance.  My body was tired and part of me wanted to give up, but the one thing I learned that day was you can truly accomplish anything you set your mind to, especially when you have someone to finish for.

Craig: How did you get involved in the Triathlon Club of San Diego?

Monica: Having already completed a number of triathlons in Ohio, one of the first things I looked for when I moved was a group I could train with out here in San Diego and Triathlon Club of San Diego seemed to be the obvious choice.  So I attended one of the Intro to TCSD meetings, which is where I first met Paula Munoz.  As acting Vice President and Secretary at the time, Paula was always looking for more people to get involved with volunteering, as we all know how involved she is herself.  So volunteering at a number of club events turned into assisting the Expo Coordinator, which ultimately turned into an opportunity to revamp the volunteer program as Volunteer Coordinator.

Craig: What should we know about your current role as the Volunteer Coordinator?

Monica: TCSD is and will always be a volunteer driven organization, so the Volunteer Coordinator’s job is to help get the word out when volunteers are needed.  We have many veteran volunteers who help lead our weekly workouts, run our monthly club events, and even help publish this newsletter.  But I want members to know that we are always looking for people to help in any way they can.  Two of our biggest needs that don’t involve a ton of time commitment are helping out at our monthly club races and TCSD expo booths.  Keep an eye out for e-mails and Facebook posts asking to sign up for these events once race season gets into the full swing!

Craig: What have been some of your funnier moments in triathlon?

Monica: I’ve definitely had my fair share of triathlon blunders, from forgetting (sometimes necessary) equipment to missing bike turns; but I think my swim at the 2013 Tri Fit Challenge definitely takes the cake.  The swim for the Olympic distance of the race is set up in triangle fashion at Antrim Lake, with the top point of the triangle located at the dock where swimmers enter and exit the water.  Being a novice swimmer, as you most likely realize by now, I started at the back of my wave and took my time swimming, concentrating on trying to stay calm.

However, after swimming for a while and sighting off of what I thought was the far left buoy, I stopped for a moment after realizing that there didn’t seem to be any other swimmers around me.  So I looked up and soon realized that I was somehow in the middle of the triangle all by myself!  Considering I don’t always swim in the straightest of lines, I figured I must have drifted left after the first turn and accidentally caught the wrong buoy in my sight.  But lesson learned and from then on, I always double check that I’m sighting in the right direction.

Craig: What have been some of your favorite out of town races?

Monica: Considering I’ve done more running races than anything else, those tend to be some of my favorite.  As you can imagine, the Nike Women’s Marathon & Half Marathon in San Francisco, CA will always hold a special place in my heart as those were my first half and full marathons.  Plus, I loved wearing my Tiffany finisher necklaces for years after the races, proudly explaining where they were from when asked.  But I must say that the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon & Half Marathon (a local race at the time) is to this day one of the most emotional races I’ve ever run.

In 2012, Nationwide Children’s Hospital (where I worked at the time) became the title beneficiary for the then Columbus Marathon & Half Marathon.  And with this partnership came what is known as their Patient Champions.  Each year, a Patient Champion is dedicated to each mile of the 26.2 course, with one Angel Mile to honor those who are no longer with us.  These patients not only share their stories to help inspire those running the event, they are also out on the course the day of the race giving out high fives and hugs to any runner who needs it.

As you can imagine, this can be a huge motivating factor to keep moving forward during a physically challenging day for most runners.  This was an especially emotional experience for me as I also personally knew one of the 2012 Patient Champions, whose family was waiting with smiles and hugs at mile 18.  I remember that race for many reasons, but I definitely believe it’s the “most meaningful marathon in the country” and would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to run it.  Plus, it’s in Columbus, OH, so it’s also one of the flattest.

Craig: What are some of your favorite San Diego races?

Monica: I’ve knocked most of the half marathons in San Diego off my bucket list at this point and my favorite so far has been the San Diego Half Marathon in March 2016.  Truthfully, I can’t really put my finger on any one specific reason other than it was a fun course (only one major hill) with a great finish line and pretty sweet swag to boot!  I haven’t competed in as many triathlons, but I definitely loved the Esprit de She for obvious reasons and am sad that it will no longer be a women’s only race this year.  I think that series was a great advocate for women in triathlon and gave those just starting out a very encouraging environment to give triathlon a try.

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over triathlon, what would you change?

Monica: I’m not sure I would change much about triathlons if I could.  For me personally, I would love shorter swims, but that’s what makes it a challenge.  Most triathletes seem to have at least one disciple they have to work at more than the others.  For me, it’s the swim, for others the run, but that’s what makes accomplishing one so much more rewarding!

Craig: What are your future endurance sport goals?

Monica: For 2017, my main goal is to complete my 30th half marathon for my 30th birthday on May 28, 2017 (technically three days before my actual birthday, but races don’t usually happen on Wednesdays).  This has been a goal of mine since I ran my 15th half marathon in September 2015 and realized that if I ran 12 half marathons in 12 months (another goal) in 2016, I could feasibly reach 30 by May 2017.  These may not be my fastest halves, but I have absolutely loved the experience completing not only 12 half marathons last year, but my Disney Coast to Coast and San Diego Triple Crown as well!

And then after that, I will be setting my eyes on my first half Ironman!  I definitely will have my work cut out for me to say the least, but I am constantly inspired by all of the triathletes here in San Diego.  But most importantly, I want to continue to try and fundraise for at least one charity event every year.  These races are always the most meaningful and I have met so many amazing people who have truly changed my life.  Cancer research will always be important to me as it’s what I do day in and day out, but I actually would like to work with other organizations such as CAF in the future.

Craig: Monica, thank you so much for sharing your story.  I wish everyone could give back half as much as you have to your community.  You are out there enjoying endurance sports and making a difference in people’s lives.  We are very fortunate to have you as a member of the TCSD.  Good luck on your quest for your 30th half marathon and that half Ironman finisher’s medal.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

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TCSD Conversation: March 2017 – Carl Johnson

Carl Johnson with his bike in Fraser; northern British Columbia

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently got to talk triathlon with TCSD member Carl Johnson.  Carl has always led an active lifestyle and he just wrapped up another stellar performance representing the TCSD in the USA Triathlon National Challenge Competition.  I know you’ll enjoy getting to know this guy who really puts in the miles.

Craig: What sports did you do while growing up?

Carl: First, Craig, thanks for all your fine TCSD interviews and for including me.  Organized sports growing up were non-existent for me, only sandlot activities with the neighborhood kids. I am a native of San Diego and grew up a long time ago in what is now Rancho San Diego/Spring Valley area.   At that time, it was very rural with old Avocado groves, ranching, and open land.  I was in the first class to go to Casa de Oro Elementary School, Spring Valley Junior High, and  Mt. Miguel High School.  Later I went to San Diego State University.  At this time there was huge growth in the San Diego area, a result of the Baby Boomers from the war years – what were all those parents thinking?  In school, I was one of those non aggressive, skinny kids who was picked next to last for the P.E. teams. Away from school I was always active, hiking, climbing trees, neighborhood pickup games, riding my bike, and generally running around.   Growing up, our family chose to not have a television.  For entertainment, my parents always said, “go outside and run around the house”.  I got my first “full sized” bike when I was in 5th grade.  My dad paid $5 for it. He installed a 2 speed rear wheel gear on it.  It had a 4″ inch high gear shift lever mounted on the top tube.  It was a real “nut cracker”.  It’s a miracle I was able to produce any children later in life.  The bike was unique at the time because I could power up hills that my friends on single speed bikes struggled to peddle up.  My favorite ride, even then, were around and on the local hills and the Alpine Loop.

Craig: What activities led you into triathlon?

Carl: In high school I was part of a very active, yet independent, Explorer Boy Scout group.  We hiked and backpacked frequently.  That continued into Boy Scouts with my son.  As a way to make hiking/backpacking more enjoyable and less fatiguing, I started doing a little distance running.  My first race was a 10K run over the Coronado Bridge in1983.  It was a proud accomplishment to only stop and walk one time as surely I thought very few “regular” people ever ran the whole way.  Over time, I have run a few hundred 10Ks, half, and full marathons all over the country, many of them as a member of the San Diego Track Club. Think of all those entry fees!  My times were always pretty much mid pack, I only broke 40 minutes in a 10k a few times. I may not be that fast, but what I do have going for me is that I am a very determined, goal oriented person.  In the mid 1990’s, for no reason at all, other than, “I wonder if I could do that” I bought a book about triathlon racing.

Craig: What was your first triathlon like?

Carl: In 1997 I did my first San Diego International Triathlon.  In that first race, I thought it was necessary to swim in a bathing suit and then change into bike shorts, as surely, no one would bike in wet shorts!   I had a long T1 as I struggled to change clothes under a towel.  I could see no one else was doing that, so I made that my first and last time.   It was a nice accomplishment to know I could train for and do a triathlon.   However, my main interest remained hiking, backpacking, and mountain climbing done mainly with the Sierra Club and friends.  I could see that doing triathlons was an excellent way to do cross training and hike and run better.  Unlike many people, I would not say I was “hooked” on triathlons.  It just seemed like a good thing to do to balance out my life.

Craig: What Ironman races have you done and what were those experiences like?

Carl: I have only completed 2 full ironman distance races plus one DNS (did not start) and one DNF. I have completed more than a dozen half marathon distance triathlons.   Triathlons races, 70.3, especially as an older person, are a little more of reasonable distance.   My first, ironman distance triathlon was the inaugural  year – 2004 – CaliforniaMan race at Lake Folsom (near Sacramento).   For that race I used Craig Zelent’s CaliforniaMan training plan.  It was quite an accomplishment for me, especially with some special circumstances.  The second half of the run was a struggle, but I was bound and determined to finish, even if it was a very slow walk. I am proud to say I still hold the age group, 60+, course record for this triathlon.  Of course there were only a total of 3 in my age group and the next year the race course venue moved to Davis, CA.  As an extra highlight, this is the only race my wife has seen me actually race in. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it without her support. In 2012, I completed, the last year in Penticton, Ironman Canada. This was especially nice, doing it with my daughter, Tami Threet.   The DNF was at Ironman Arizona when a guy mowed/crashed me down at a bike aid station, I was only able to struggle through about 2 miles of the run, this was a first and a huge disappointment. My DNS, was the inaugural of the 2000 full Ironman Oceanside.   I was busy training away, when  I discovered I had a recurrence of Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer, the same cancer I thought I had “beaten”  16 years earlier.   I had a biopsy and began chemotherapy again.  A full Ironman Oceanside was not in the cards for me.  On a positive note, the advancement in chemo drugs from 16 years earlier made the 2nd time around some easier.  A good Oncologist was also helpful.

Craig: I understand you have battled and overcome cancer on 2 occasions. What
kinds of cancer did you have and what were the most important factors enabling
you to survive?

Carl: For those who have experienced cancer and treatment, you know how much it sucks !  My first encounter with Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was 1985 at age 41.  The chemotherapy was highly aggressive and toxic.  Included in the treatment were two hospital sessions in which I was taken close to death before the antidote was delivered at a precise time, which brought me back to the living.  Rather on the brutal side!  If it were not for my wife, Nancy, to look after my best interests, no way could I have made it.  There were times when, all I could do was to force myself to walk around one block.  Doctors agreed that my being in excellent shape going into the treatment, was a lifesaver for my survival.  With my 1998 cancer recurrence, Lymphoma procedures and treatment had vastly improved.  After my first treatment and as a reward to myself, I bought a good mountain bike and rode it up Cowles Mt.  However, treatment was still no picnic.  To this day, when I see my oncologist, he always says, “well, I don’t have any patients that went through what you did back in 1985 and are still around”.

Craig: Before you became a triathlete, you were a Sierra Club Outing Leader.  Where did that take you and what were some of your favorite expeditions?

Carl: Partly because of my love of the outdoors and sharing it with others, I became an Outings Leader for the Sierra Club, officially starting in about 1987 until 2005. I organized and led over 200 hikes, runs, backpacks, car camps, and canoe trips, mainly in western United States and northern Mexico. In addition, I did a lot of trail running with the outdoor book author Jerry Schad.  My reputation was for going to unique places and doing demanding outings.  Some of my favorite outings were:  runs up and down El Cajon Mt. and Otay Mt. , back pack/climbs of the highest mountain in Baja California – Picacho del Diablo 13 times, about 20 trips, with my wife assisting, to the Copper Canyon in northern Mexico, car camps to the Rancho Meling, every local waterfall, hiking the length of the San Diego River at semi flood stage, and about 10 canoe trips down the lower Colorado River, including many of those trips with high school students who had never camped before.  I taught mainly high school art primarily in the San Diego City Schools, so the students were from my classes.

Craig: Rumor has that you had a legal incident at the Grand Canyon. What happened
and have you paid your debt to society?

Carl: To say the least, in the fall of 1994 I had an especially interesting experience at the Grand Canyon National Park.  I had run/hiked with friends across the canyon, North rim to South Rim several times through the years.  In 1994, the guy I had last run across the canyon with, could not do it, so I thought I would gather friends for an adventure.  Soon the word got out (as in previous years) about the run.  This run is only about the length of a marathon with a little bit of elevation gain and loss. The fall is a beautiful time to do this spectacular run.  Soon, I had a small group of runners, mainly friends, SDTC members, and a couple persons who contacted me with their interest.  This was a run just for fun, beauty, and friends. Unbeknownst to me, a couple of the “new friends” running  with us were part of one of the most elaborate undercover, sting operations in Grand Canyon’s N.P. history and they were targeting me!  They even distributed “wanted posters” to the other rangers.  To make a long story short, on the morning of the run, there were 2 rangers, freezing their butts off, waiting for me, hiding  in the bushes  down the trail about 500 yards with guns drawn.  They arrested me, held me in handcuffs for several hours, prepared to transport me to jail on the south rim, and fined me $2,500.  Then somewhat mysteriously, they turned me loose to get to the other side of the canyon just after 12:00 noon.  Not having planned on this part of the adventure, I did not have proper nutrition.  That was of no concern to the Rangers. I did make it across, but because of nerves, exhaustion, and lack of nutrition, this was probably the closest I have ever come to not finishing a run/hike.  It was near dark when I finally reached the lodge on the south side. How ironic it would have been had I needed to be rescued!  The charge was basically for “organizing a sporting event” in a National Park.  The bottom line was that the Grand Canyon N.P. and the new superintendent happened to be changing their policies in the fall of 1994 because they were tired of rescuing “out of shape” people.   Rather than fight the charges in a Flagstaff court, me and another person just paid the fine and moved on.  This whole incident left a very negative memory for my wife and I of such a beautiful place.

Craig: You’ve run a lot of the big city marathons over the years – New York, Los
Angeles, Boston. What did you do to qualify for the 2000 Boston Marathon?

Carl: In 1996 I qualified and ran the Boston Marathon.  In 2008, I thought it would be great to run Boston again, but with my daughter Tami.  In my “qualifying ” race , at Long Beach, I got severe leg cramps and missed qualifying by about 5 minutes.  What’s a person to do?  Qualify at another race, of course.  It was getting late in the season with no more “local” marathons taking place.  My solution was to make an official marathon course and race – the Otay Lakes Marathon. I was very careful to be sure the race course and race was an officially sanctioned USATF course and race.  The race was marked, had timers, and aid stations. The Boston race officials were very impressed with my qualifying efforts.  Several other people were going to run with me, but eventually, it was just down to one person – me.  I qualified for Boston with about 5 minutes to spare and with no race officials hiding in the bushes.  It was a thrill to do the first of one of many big races with Tami.

Craig: Over the years, how many bikes do you think you have purchased from Walmart?

Carl: I have only had a few really nice bikes in my life.  My “race” bike is a Kestrel (my fifth). It started out as a KM-40 many years ago, but thanks to Kestrel’s great warranty policy, it has been upgraded each time the frame had a problem.   Many of my other bikes, more than 30, have been cheapo “Walmart type” bikes, costing around $75 and used temporarily.  Nancy and I have been on more than 85 cruise ships as that is Nancy’s preferred method of travel.  I go to the nearest Walmart type store before boarding a ship to purchase the bike.  Usually, the bike can be stored under the bed.  Our trips have taken us to interesting places around the world.  When a person is in a city for a limited time, having a bike allows one to get around into neighborhoods, the countryside, see the sights, and often interact with local folks.  One of many good experiences was riding around in a small town on the Amazon River.  Two middle school aged boys, on their bikes, saw me and insisted on showing me the sights around their town and out into the jungle.  After riding for a couple of hours, they took me to their home for agua dulce (fresh water) and to meet their mom.  After using my “new” bikes, I can easily find someone such as a ship crew member, a local person, or a school to give the bike to.  Someone else can then enjoy and experience riding a bike.

Craig: What is the National Challenge Competition?

Carl: The USAT NCC is a great activity which began 10 years ago. This is just like doing triathlons, you don’t have to been a swimming/biking/track star in college, anyone can do it, you just sign up, and away you go, you what you can do.  TCSD has usually put together one or two teams (depending on the official rules) each year, making it very easy to participate. By being part of the TCSD team, it helps a person stay a shape during the three winter months of December, January, and February.  In addition, one can see how you compare to other people across the nation.  The emphasis, but not exclusively, is to do as much of everything as you can.  December is swim month, January is bike month, and February is run month.  I find myself looking forward to this time each year.

Craig: How have you done in this competition over the years and what extreme things would we see you do if we spied on you from December through February?

Carl: I have done this competition off and on for several years.  Every year, it seems I do a little more.  Just like in completing a full Ironman, it does not seem possible that a person could do these activities every day for 3 months.  I am retired from regular outside work (so I have a little more time), I don’t do fast times anymore, and it sure helps if you don’t get sick.  In addition, if you can just do at least a little bit every day (or maybe 5 or 6 times a day), it adds up, becomes a habit, and becomes easier. Last year, with the TCSD team, I was up near the top mileage each month, but it seemed like someone would out sprint me in the last couple days of the month’s competition.  In the national competition, I was also fighting it out for the overall top position.
Unfortunately, after the competition closed, nationally, 2 people had been saving (not logging in) their miles and went flying ahead like they had been in a separate race.  By the way, that’s why participants should log in each day.  This year, after a TCSD 4th place swim start, I was able to just keep going, 1st place TCSD and nationally on the bike, and an okay run month. I was able to swim and bike every day, and except for 6 days run every day.  It adds up.  I put in at least 5 to 8 hours of exercise every day for 3 months.  Thankfully, my wife was supportive of my time in the pool or on the road.  Nationally this year it looks like I will have the most miles, male for the bike and overall most miles, male and female – 5,561.8 unadjusted, actual miles for 3 months.
It’s been fun. When you see the results for all of the TCSD members who were part of this competition, they did unbelievably well. I encourage anyone to sign up next year. Go TCSD!

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of being a TCSD member?

Carl: I especially like the races and programs that TCSD offer its members.  Also, being able to associate with so many other fine athletes and TCSD members is a treat and honor.  It is motivating to talk to others and hear their joys, sorrows, and victories.

Craig: You have been very active in the art community over the years. What have been some of the highlights of your art career?

Carl: For over 30 years, I was an art teacher in the San Diego City Schools teaching mainly at the junior high and high school level.   I was especially fortunate that I was also able to pursue being a professional artist/sculptor, exhibiting and sharing my work with others all over the country. One fun highlight very early in my art career, was a gallery in Los Angeles calling to say one of my sculptures had just been sold to John Denver.  For many years I was involved in local art organizations having been president of Allied Craftsmen of San Diego and the San Diego Museum, Art Artist Guild of San Diego.  It should not go unsaid, that the financial aspects of selling my art work, allowed us a more comfortable lifestyle in which to raise my family than just on a teacher’s salary alone would have, for which the whole family is grateful.   Since my art studio was at home, I was able to be around during the child rearing years of the family.  Both of my kids grew seeing art constantly which I believe, accounts for the creative people they are today.

Craig: Who would you like to thank for where you are at today with your life?

Carl: This is a good life.  I could not have done all these great adventures without the freedom my parents gave me growing up to explore my surroundings.  Too, the support of my family, especially my wife Nancy and son Doug (lives in Japan) and daughter Tami.

Craig: What are your future goals in triathlon?

Carl:  I want to continue to be active and enjoy life every day with a smile on my face.  Triathlons?  Maybe Ironman Japan or Roth or Ironman Hawaii with Tami – or TCSD Fiesta Island for sure.  At this point in life, I don’t make too many extra long range plans, but live in the moment, and feel very thankful for each day.  Life is good!

Craig: Carl, thank you so much for sharing your story.  The TCSD is lucky to have you as a member.  You are a great role model for all of us.  I hope you can continue putting in the miles for many years to come.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

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121st Boston Marathon

Mom and Smokey during our Chicago visit.

Craig and Laurie at JP Licks in Boston. Delicious!

Laurie on the run at Boston.

On April 17th I ran the 121st Boston Marathon.  This was my 15th Boston finish and Laurie’s 21st Boston finish.  We are so thankful to God that we can still enjoy this active lifestyle.

Race day was unseasonably warm.  Temperatures were in the 70’s for the entire race.  In 2015 and 2016 I ran 3:17, but I was a bit more fit this year.  I had a strong race as I finished in 3:14:48 (7:25/mile).  I placed 169th out of 1,945 men age 50-54, 3,224th out of 14,438 men and 3,629th out of 26,411 overall finishers.  Laurie ran 3:35:12 and finished 42nd in her age group.  This was also her 239th marathon finish.  She is such a rock star!

One of the great stories from this year’s race was that it was the 50th anniversary of the 1st female finish at the Boston Marathon.  Kathrine Switzer was “The Girl Who Started it All” way back in 1967.  Kathrine is 70 years old now and she looks 50.  She finished this year’s Boston in 4:44.  She wore her famous bib #261 which has now been officially retired by the Boston Marathon.  Kathrine paved the way for women today and beyond.

I met another very inspiring athlete, but did not get his name.  This was his 20th Boston Marathon.  The 1st 2 were as a runner.  The last 18 have been as a wheelchair athlete.  He broke his neck and had to learn another way to be an athlete.  Boston is full of stories like that.

Laurie and I both used the trip east to visit our families.  I stopped in Chicago for 2 days to see my Mom and my sisters.  Upon seeing my Mom I realized this is the 30th anniversary of Mom and my trip to Boston for my 1st Boston Marathon in 1987.  Times sure have changed.  As a spectator in 1987 Mom was even able to ride the bus with me to the start line in Hopkinton.  There were 6,399 entrants in 1987.

Laurie went to New York for her Dad’s hip replacement procedure.  He has a long way to go, but he has such a positive outlook so we are very optimistic for his future.  Laurie also saw her Mom and brother’s family.

Click on this link to see my race photos:

Living the life…

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Ironman 70.3 Oceanside

Craig on the run

Craig & Laurie

On April 1st I raced Ironman 70.3 Oceanside.  In many ways this was a trip down memory lane for me as 1 of my greatest triathlon accomplishments happened on this course in 2001.  The race was a full Ironman back in 2001 and I earned a slot to compete in the Ironman World Championships in Kona.

I had never done the 70.3 distance in Oceanside.  The primary reason I had avoided this race is the likelihood of the water and air temperatures being cold.  They have had really good conditions for the past 5 years so I decided to give it a go in 2017.  I am so glad I raced it this year because I had a blast!

The 1.2 mile swim took place in the Oceanside Harbor.  The morning air was chilly, probably mid to high 50’s and it was windy which did make it cold.  The skies were clear so it was sunny all day and the air warmed up to the high 60’s.  Thankfully the water temperature was 62 so I was fine once the race started.  In addition to my wetsuit, I also wore a thermal cap so I was plenty warm.  Rather than starting each age group with its own mass start, the organizers opted for a rolling start where each athlete self-seeded themselves.  By self-seeding, the sub 30 minute swimmers went first, then the 35 minute people, etc.  This was an excellent decision because the harbor is pretty narrow and can be pretty physical when 200 people start at once.  My swim time was 31:12 which put me in 8th place.  I was very happy with that.

The 56 mile bike course is a single loop that takes the athletes up the relatively flat coast in Oceanside and into hilly Camp Pendleton.  The winter rains we had made Camp Pendleton absolutely gorgeous.  Typically we don’t have access to bike on the base so this race was a real treat.  There were 2 short ¼ mile sections where the road is very narrow so those are no passing zones.  And there is a steep, curvy ½ mile descent known as Dead Man’s Curve where there is actually a speed limit of 25 mph.  They monitor that section with timing mats and this year they disqualified over 40 athletes for speeding.  No warning.  Everyone knows the rules in that section.  Going over 25 mph earns you an automatic DQ.  I fully support the organizers for enforcing this rule because an athlete died from a bike crash in this section back in 2001.  His name was Perry Rendina from Ohio.  I never met Perry, but I’ll never forget him.

The bike course was very challenging for me.  My neck has limited my bike training the last 3 years so I really suffer on these long rides.  The bike has always been my weakness and it is even more glaring now.  My biggest week of bike training leading up to Oceanside was only 127 miles.  5 years ago I would have averaged at least 150 bike miles leading up to a race of this distance.  I turn 55 later this year so I’ve come to understand that this is the new normal.  I am pleased, though, that I have recognized my new limitations because the #1 goal is to get to the start line healthy.  I had a 2:55:54 bike split (19.0 mph) which was 32nd best and it dropped me down to 21st place.

The 13.1 mile run is comprised of 2 laps primarily along The Strand right next to the Pacific Ocean.  It really is a gorgeous run.  The only downside of this course is that there is a lot of concrete so it led to some sore feet after the race.  There are lots of spectators so it is a lot of fun.  I had a great run as my split was 1:34:28 (7:15/mile).  This was the 3rd best run on the day and it moved me up to 10th place out of 138 men in the 55-59 age group and 296th overall out of 2,375 finishers.  My finish time was 5:11:34.

This was a great event and a lot of fun for me.  Much of what made it fun was that my wife Laurie also did the race.  She had a great time and was glad she did the race.  Something that gave me a good chuckle was looking over the results in Laurie’s age group.  She was edged out by 3 seconds by a lady named Janine Tampon.  I’m proud of my wife, but can’t believe she got beaten by a Tampon.

One of the prizes at this race were slots for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga.  Qualifying for Chattanooga was one of my primary goals for this year, but I figured Oceanside would be too competitive and I’d never earn a slot at this race.  There were 3 slots in my age group and I figured my 10th place finish would never get me a slot.  Laurie had to coax me to attend the Awards where they give out the slots.  You just never know.  The slots seemed to get gobbled up pretty fast in all the age groups before mine, but I stuck around anyway.  I’m so glad I was there.  You must be present to claim your slot.  Amazingly the slots in my age group went to 10th place, 14th place and 22nd place.  I actually claimed the 1st slot!

This race was such a gift from God.  They all are.  But I had such a good experience at this race.  God really was looking out for me.  And He gave me that gift of the Chattanooga slot.  That was the icing on the cake.

To see my race pictures, click on this link:

Living the life…

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Superseal Triathlon

Mark Knaeps 3rd place and Craig 1st place

Craig running like he stole something

On March 19th I raced the Superseal Triathlon in Coronado, CA.  We had been having heavy fog every morning for the 5 days prior to the race so I predicted visibility would be an issue, but we actually had perfect conditions for the race – the tiny bit of fog we had burned off during the swim and it turned sunny.

The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was in San Diego Bay.  I was surprised that the water temperatures were pretty warm for this time of year – mid 60’s.  I had a solid swim as I came out of the water in 3rd place with a time of 24:52.  I’m hoping the swim was a bit long because that is a slow time for me, but I was pleased where I ranked.

The 40K (24.8 mile) bike course was 2 loops of the flat, smooth road called The Strand.  Just before half way I got passed by a guy I figured was in my age group.  I later learned his name was Mark.  My goal on the bike quickly became to not let Mark put too much time into me.  I could gauge our separation at the bike turnarounds.  I figured Mark would get off the bike about 3 minutes ahead.  It wound up being 2:48.  I was pretty confident I could make up that ground on Mark, but did not know if there was anyone ahead of Mark.  My bike split was 1:08:51 (21.6 mph) which was the 6th best time, but it dropped me into 5th place.

The 10K (6.2 mile) run was mostly an out and back type of course.  I would get 1 chance near the 3 mile turnaround to assess who was ahead of me.  I estimated that Mark was 1:20 ahead at 3 miles.  I felt confident I could bridge that gap.  Then at mile 4.5 a spectator friend told me I was 40 seconds down.  But pretty quickly after that I caught Mark.  Too quickly.  This had to mean there was someone else further up the road.  I had been killing myself to get to this point.  I was on fumes, but had less than 1 mile to go.  I kept the accelerator down as best I could and finally with about 500 meters to go I passed another guy named Al who was in my age group.  I did not know it at the time, but this moved me into the lead.  I managed to hold off Al and beat him by 11 seconds.  Mark came in 3rd, only 2 seconds behind Al.  So the top 3 were separated by only 13 seconds!  4th place was 7 minutes behind.  Holy cow that was fun!  I had the fastest run of the day and was the only guy to break 40 minutes.  My run split was 37:58 and I finished in 2:16:06.  I placed 1st out of 33 in the men’s 55-59 age group and 37th out of 643 overall finishers.

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!

Posted in 2017, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

TCSD Conversation: February 2017 – James Ismailoglu

James with triathlon legends Chris Lieto and Craig Alexander

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently had the chance to talk triathlon with James Ismailoglu.  James does a lot of heavy lifting for the TCSD as he is our Membership Director and one of our beginner coaches.  If you are at a Tri Club event, then James is probably there, too.  I know you will enjoy getting to know James.

Craig: What sports did you do before triathlon?

James: I used to play soccer during my high school years in Turkey many, many years ago. I was a terrible runner, couldn’t even run a mile without stopping multiple times. Fast forward to the recent years… In 2008 I had a couple of 5Ks that I used to brag about, turkey trot and MCRD marine bootcamp 5K.

Craig: How did you get introduced to triathlon and the TCSD?

James: In May 2009, I was at a beach birthday party and was introduced to a triathlete. We talked for a while. I was asking him lots of questions trying to learn more about the sport. At that time a triathlete was a civilian version of a navy seal to me.  I had big respect. On the same evening I started searching, learning, reading more about this triathlon thing. Honestly it was scary at first but I wanted to give it a shot.

Craig: How did Team Solana change your life?

James: When I started to search about Triathlon, TriClub San Diego was on the top of my search results. I found out about their Team Solana training team. This was the first year of the Team Solana.  Entry fee was $350.  It included membership to the club, race entry to Solana Beach Triathlon, 10 weeks of coached training, many clinics for injury prevention, nutrition, core and of course swim, bike and run. Great deal!  Our beginner coaches were Steve Tally, Dean Rosenberg and Steve Koci.

In the following years I was a part of the Team Solana as a mentor, beginner coach as well as my other Team Solana friends the “ORIGINALS”. We enjoyed helping the new comers to the sport, mentor them, coach them and train with them.

Craig: I have heard that you just did your 240th race.  That is a lot of racing for a guy who started in the sport relatively recently.  What do you love about racing?

James: After I got the Tri bug, my dream was to become an Ironman. I volunteered for Ironman Arizona in November 2009 (3 months after my first ever triathlon) and got an entry for 2010 Ironman Arizona.

Here are a couple of crazy things to mention on my Ironman training. I did a century ride in Fiesta Island, yes 101 miles in circles (22 loops). Another day 7 hours 20 minutes at the gym, yes. 6 hours on the stationary bike, one hour treadmill run.

I was going full speed, I raced two 70.3 triathlons in 2 weeks. Super Frog and Oceanside 70.3 (2010). I raced my first Ironman in November 2010. Nothing describes that feeling crossing the finish line after a rainy, windy 140.6 miles.  And I did it again the following year. I guess this is little backward but I raced my first Olympic distance triathlon after my full Ironman 140.6. Go figure!

My crazy race life started in 2009 with 20 races and 35 in 2010.  I competed in my 243rd race in February 2017. I enjoy racing, I love being on the start line and even more crossing the finish line, such a rush feeling. After these crazy distances I started enjoying shorter races more, going all out and finishing fast. This helped me to focus on the speed more than the endurance. Now they are my favorites, sprint triathlons and 5K run races. I started winning my Age group or getting podium finishes on short races. I won my age group at TriRock Triathlon and qualified for age group Nationals in Omaha, also started to have 5K podium finishes.

I am also honored to be accepted to Team Zoot triathlon team this year, which brings more competitive edge to my racing life.

Craig: What are a few of your favorite races?

James: Solana Beach Triathlon 2009 was my first official race and it will be always special. That’s why I call Solana Beach my 2nd birth place. Here, I was re-born as healthier, slimmer, fitter and faster. I’ve started doing something different last year on this race, Duathlon and Triathlon combo back to back.  Duathlon is the first race of the day. I finish the duathlon, go back to transition area to change and go down the beach to start my triathlon.

If you live in San Diego and are considering Ironman, Ironman Arizona is one of my favorites. I love this race, just pack up and drive, no need to worry about the bike transport or paying extra to airlines for your luggage. City is very nice, course is very spectator friendly.  If you have family or friends with you, they will see you many times during the race. This usually is not the case for the long races. This race was my choice for both my Ironman races.

If you are into the short and fast races, nothing beats the Carlsbad 5000. It is called the fastest 5000. You can spend the entire day in this beautiful city. There are 5 races on the same day, you can do your own race, watch your family, friends race or sit down and watch the pros running the 5K in 13 minutes (scary). They also offer 5K all day, you can participate all five 5K races. I also like the expo, breakfast, restaurant options between races. Nice sporty day for the entire family, actually it became our tradition. Last year we had 9 runners from our family.

Craig: What was your experience like at the 2016 USA Triathlon National Championships in Omaha?

James: After winning my age group at TriRock I received an invitation letter from USAT to the 2016 USA Triathlon National Championships in Omaha.  I was very excited to race with top age group athletes from around the country. I started working on the logistics as much as the athletic side. Out of town races require good planning.  You need to make sure to start early, from hotel booking, bike transport, flight arrangements and you need to give some time to yourself after you arrive for meetings, expo and acclimatization. You have to have a very detailed check list not to forget anything. Nationals weekend had 2 races, Olympic on Saturday and Sprint on Sunday. Since I was already there and my bike and race gear was there, I decided to race both distances on back to back days like many of the other athletes did. This is a very well organized event.  Don’t miss it if you get an invitation.

Craig: Congratulations on your qualification to run the 2017 Boston Marathon.  What lessons did you learn with this process?

James: While I enjoy the short races, running the Boston marathon was on my radar. Since the triathlon is a seasonal sport, I stay active as a runner during off seasons. I started doing long runs to work on my run endurance, ran multiple local marathons. I qualified for Boston in 2016 twice. My first qualification was by 33 seconds. I knew this was not going to be enough to be accepted for the entry. I needed a larger cushion and got my 2nd qualification at Mt Charleston Marathon by about 4 minutes. I knew this was my ticket to Boston.

Every marathoner knows the mile 20 feeling. I was about to give up at mile 20. Keeping the same pace was going to be enough to qualify, but could I? When I thought about the Boston at that point of the race, it was only 6 miles away, if I needed to start all over again it was going to be 26 mile away, taking the 6 mile option was a no brainer. I am glad I pushed through those little voices in my ear.

Craig: What are some of the dumber things you have done as a triathlete?  (This should be a funny answer so I hope you’ll interject some humor.  You had mentioned the 2009 Superfrog which was your 1st Half Ironman and forgetting your wet suit on race morning.  Tell that story – mention your checklist, how getting to the race so early actually saved you that day, and how your brother really saved you by driving back from Coronado to Solana Beach and back to Coronado to get your wet suit.  And that you had time to spare – you had the wet suit in hand 30 minutes before the race.  And tell the story of doing both the 2016 Solana Beach Duathlon and Triathlon on the same day.

James: When you are chatting with a triathlete, there is always a dumber things list, here are my two best ones:

It was my first 70.3 distance, Super Frog 2010. While I was getting ready at home, I checked my wetsuit off my check list of packed items.  But the wetsuit felt it a little wet. I hung it back to dry. Well, race morning we (my brother and I) hit the road to Coronado Island and I was setting up my transition I realized I didn’t have my wetsuit, oops. It always pays to be an early bird. My brother drove back to Solana Beach, picked up the wetsuit and flew back to Coronado just before the swim start. It was the wildest surf entry.  I probably couldn’t have survived the swim without my wetsuit.

2nd one; Last year when I raced the Duathlon and Triathlon combo in Solana Beach. I installed adapters on my pedals to convert them to platform pedals so that I could start and finish my duathlon with my running shoes. This was going to save time for me not to change shoes twice. This plan worked well for the duathlon, but I forgot to remove the adapters for the triathlon. Here I am running to the bike mount line with my bike shoes, then realized that the pedals still have the adapters installed.  There was no way to click in. They are not easy to remove.  You need some pointy metal (like a key) to pull them out. I borrowed a key from some spectator, removed the platforms and clicked in to start my ride and of course this was over a minute loss on my race time.

Comparing the bike times on the same day, same distance. I noticed that my bike times were identical with run and bike shoes almost a minute less spent in transition. From that day on, I started racing with platform pedals on short races using run shoes only. Here are the benefits. You only change shoes once, you run faster with your bike to the bike mount and on the way back from the dismount to your transition area. Works for me!

Craig: You do a lot for the TCSD.  You are the Membership Director and one of the Beginner Coaches.  What do you do for these roles?

James: I love to give back to the community that brought me where I am today. Currently I am the Membership Director of the TriClub.  I help members with their membership questions, login, password reset etc. I also answer future member’s questions, send them the information they need, help them as a beginner coach/mentor. I organize beginner bike rides and brick runs. I volunteer at almost all race expo’s, meetings or any other club activities. The TriClub has changed my life to become healthier and fitter.  I enjoy the camaraderie, friendship and having many resources to learn more and improve. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience with others.

Craig: What are the best features of your TCSD membership?

James: I like to share my time with the same minded crowd. Here come the TriClub social events, beginner meetings, club meetings, introduction to TriClub meetings. These are always fun gatherings, information exchanges and sharing the knowledge. There is always something new to learn.

Craig: Who is one of your triathlon hero’s?

James: My triathlon hero is Craig Alexander.  He was the number one during my first years. I asked him on Facebook what he would recommend to a first timer on his Ironman, he posted on my page “Enjoy it, remember we do this for fun, good luck”. That was priceless.

Craig: Who would you like to thank for the success you’ve had as a triathlete?

James: All these things wouldn’t happen if you don’t have the full support from your family. My wife and my daughter were always supportive on this crazy journey from couch to an Ironman and Boston. From time to time, they come race with me too, 5K runs for now, there is always hope to have more triathletes in the house I guess.  And, of course, my brother who saved my butt on Super Frog 70.3.

Craig: What are your future goals in multi-sport?  (I hope you’ll mention your short term 2017 goals – Boston, qualify for Team USA at Du Nationals, break 20 minutes for the 5K.  But I also hope you’ll speak to goals beyond this year.)

James: I will go to Boston this April to enjoy the entire 26 miles with my phone, taking pictures all the way to the finish line. Qualifying for Boston was the hard part.  Now it is time to enjoy it.  My finish time is not the object this time.

On the list of goals; Making it to the Team USA for Triathlon or Duathlon, this will be like going to the Olympics after the age of 50 and another hard one on this list is running a sub 20 minutes 5K.

Craig: James, thank you so much for sharing your story.  I’ve wanted to do this with you for a long time now.  That 2009 beach party was a stroke of luck for the TCSD.  Thank you for all you do.  I look forward to running Boston with you this year.  Good luck at Boston and beyond!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

Posted in 2017, Marathon, Running Race, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TCSD Conversation: January 2017 – Holly Stroschine

Holly clearing 12 feet, 8 inches for the University of Oregon

Holly pole vaulting 12 feet, 8 inches for the University of Oregon

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

Recently I got to talk triathlon with TCSD member and TCSD Track and Kids Coach Holly Stroschine.  Holly has been a real trail blazer in her athletic career so I know you’ll enjoy her story.

Craig: What was your athletic background before triathlon?

Holly: I grew up on a farm in Oregon, with a huge forest.  My twin brother and I would run around chasing animals, climbing trees, building forts and obstacle courses, so we were well conditioned for sports.  I remember watching the 1984 Olympics on TV, and wanting very badly to become an Olympian, although I was too shy to start any sports besides swim lessons and gymnastics until 4th grade.  I had watched my brother compete in several years of team sports, sitting jealously on the sideline telling myself “I bet I could do that”.  In 4th grade a friend talked us both into joining Salem Track Club.   I did jumps, hurdles, and 400/800m.  I ended up qualifying for TAC Youth Nationals (now USAT&F) in the long jump and 4x400m relay, and placed 4th in long jump.  I continued track all the way through college.  I set a few track records in middle school, and went undefeated in cross country in 7th grade, until the district meet.  In 8th grade I did volleyball instead (since that was the “cool” sport).  I did a few years of basketball, high school ski team, cheerleading, more cross country and swim team.  I went to high school district meets in swim team, and in several track events.  My last 2 years of high school I also did pole vault, which I broke the Oregon state record in, which helped me earn a scholarship at my dream track school, the University of Oregon.  I traveled with the U of O track team for 4 years, each year vaulting in the Pac 10 Championships.  I also pole vaulted at US and Canadian Nationals, trying to qualify for the Olympics and World Championships.  I am ½ Canadian, and their Olympic team was a little easier to make, though I narrowly missed it.

After college I continued pole vaulting one more season, though quickly realized how difficult it is for an athlete to compete at that level without team funding, while working full-time, with no sponsorship.  So I stopped competing.  That left a huge physical and emotional void in my life, which I spent some time filling with competitive surfing, but can finally, truly say is being healed through triathlon.

Craig: What was your first triathlon like?

Holly: My first triathlon was the 2010 Santa Catalina Triathlon.  I was quite nervous, considering I had just delivered a baby 10 weeks prior, and the night before I fell off my bike, trying to change gears too late while turning uphill.  A guy watching told me I shouldn’t be racing that course, which didn’t exactly help my confidence.  I had only bought or sat on a road bike 2 weeks prior.  I don’t recommend this.  The race went surprisingly well!  Swimming felt great, since I had swam a lot during pregnancy.  The bike was uncomfortable, but surprisingly, and dangerously fast considering my experience.  I was thrilled to see and utilize a “real” bathroom right along the start of the run course.  The run was my least favorite, and most challenging, since I really hadn’t been running since early pregnancy.  Though I only walked up one steep hill, and came in 8th in my age-group.  That was quite exciting, so I was hooked!

Craig: You did that race 10 weeks after giving birth to your daughter.  What did you learn about the health benefits for mom and baby when a woman regularly exercises throughout pregnancy?

Holly: I planned to run as long as I could into both my pregnancies, but at just 3-4 months in, I couldn’t tolerate it.  I did some “cardio” machines and modified strength training during both pregnancies, which has known benefits like decreasing nausea, less discomfort, less fatigue, lower resting HR, greater VO2max, increased cardiac output, shorter and less complicated labors, lower c-section rate, less weight gain for moms, higher energy levels during and after pregnancy, and healthier birth-weight for babies.  Even though I took pretty good care of myself with my first pregnancy, I ended up with pre-eclampsia, and was forced into an early induction.  In the hospital I was given a lot of medications I didn’t want, which led to feeling sluggish postpartum, a slow recovery, a lack of motivation, and a very difficult time losing pregnancy weight.

For my second pregnancy, I signed up for my first tri, the last triathlon I could find that year, as I wanted motivation to keep healthier through and post-pregnancy.  I consistently rode a recumbent bike, “ran” on an eliptical, and swam at the YMCA, while my 2 year old utilized their free childcare.  Thank God for YMCAs!  I gave birth to a very healthy 8 pound girl, drug-free at home (planned).  The difference between an un-drugged home birth, and drugged-up in the hospital was incredible!  I felt amazing immediately after giving birth, as the body’s endorphins and other post-delivery hormones weren’t interrupted from their natural cycle.  I breastfed both kids, as human milk is the best nutrition for our babies; it contains antibodies that help fight viruses and bacteria, it helps prevent breast cancer in mom and baby, creates a strong bond between mother and child, and it’s a great way to help moms return to pre-pregnancy weight.  Moms must remember that our babies’ nutrition is whatever we put into our bodies, so we’ve got to eat more plant-based foods, healthy fats, and avoid processed foods as much as possible.

Starting exercise postpartum requires significant core rebuilding, though cardiovascularly it can feel great.  During pregnancy, a woman’s cardiac output increases 30-50%, and does not drop immediately after the baby is born.  With more blood flow, we have a higher oxygen carrying capacity, which can make us feel super-human.  Unfortunately it doesn’t last forever, although we can prolong exercise related benefits by breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding mildly keeps blood flow higher, increases our metabolic rate, and releases the hormone relaxin.  Relaxin makes our joints more flexible, like a natural muscle-relaxant, which allows a greater range of motion, or a greater stride length running. We must be careful though. Nutrition and gradual progressions are key, because too much exercise while breastfeeding can lead to stress fractures or other injuries.

Craig: What inspired you to start a triathlon club in Japan?

Holly: In 2011 I qualified for USA Triathlon Nationals, but couldn’t go because we had military orders to Japan. I was very excited to hear that a couple bases in Japan held annual triathlons and a duathlon.  I was thrilled with the opportunity to compete with the Japanese, and wanted to find people on base to train with.  I also didn’t want to risk losing the progress I had made since beginning the sport, and wanted to qualify for USAT Nationals again as soon as we returned to the US.  So, I started Iwakuni Triathletes in 2012, got a bunch of my running mom friends to join and start competing in the multisport events.  We certainly increased the number of women participating in these male-dominated events.  The club still exists, though memberships are constantly changing as service-members relocate.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of being a TCSD member?

Holly: I first joined the club when I heard they had free races.  If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to hold yourself accountable, this is it.  With consistent races at the same location, you can check your progress against your own time and teammates.  I love how the races have free food, which is also great motivation for my kids to participate.  Kids do shorter races.  We also love the club meetings, where we get to meet pro triathletes, get free food, and occasional raffle prizes.

Craig: What volunteer roles have you held in the TCSD?

Holly: I began coaching track practices with Bill Gleason at UCSD in 2014.  We currently alternate coaching workouts, though the location is in the process of being changed.  Please check club updates for our new location.  In 2015 I led a trail run in Mission Trails Regional Park for one season, and would like to continue that again when I have time.  I was recently asked to take over the TriClub Kids Program.  We have short kids races during appropriate adult races, plus other fun training opportunities.  I am hoping to add kids track practice at the same time/location as the adult practice.  Our kids participation is currently small, but I would really like to expand it, by adding more consistent workouts and adding kids events to more adult events, to encourage more participation for parents and children.  Please contact me at the email below if you have a child you would like to participate, or if you’d like to help this program in some way.

Craig: How has volunteering enhanced your TCSD experience?

Holly: I have met so many wonderful athletes of all abilities.  It has allowed me to build lasting friendships, find training partners, and has influenced my own coaching business.  As a coach, it has broadened my horizons, meeting so many different personalities, opening me up to a wider range of events, like Xterras.  Without volunteering, I don’t believe we can fully appreciate what others do, or meet or get to know nearly as many athletes as we do when helping out.

Craig: What is your coaching background?

Holly: Prior to coaching triathlon, I began volunteer coaching youth track events and adult runners around my 4 years on the University of Oregon track team. I also did some assistant swim team coaching as a lifeguard after high school. I started personal training in 1998, while competing in college track, to help pay for necessities.  I had many track injuries, so I pursued a Master’s degree in Sports Medicine, and spent hundreds of residency hours to become a certified athletic trainer (ATC).  I worked as an ATC after college, got married, then went back and forth between athletic training and personal training as my husband’s military career sent us many places.  After having children, I have focused on part-time triathlon coaching and personal training.  In 2012, I started teaching running classes again.  In 2013 I licensed my business Peak Conditioning for personal training and multi-sport coaching in San Diego.  In 2014 I became a Level I USA Triathlon Certified Coach.  I plan to take the Level II USAT Coach Certification Clinic as soon as convenient in 2017.  This year I have also been offered a pole vault coaching position with Cathedral Catholic High School, one of the best local high school track programs. I will continue to write training plans and hold events for my Peak Conditioning athletes around those hours.

Craig: What mistakes have you made as a triathlete?

Holly:  Many.  Though I say the more you make, the quicker you improve.  I have had a couple not-so-graceful “flying” mounts and dismounts, while learning them barefoot, trying to save a few seconds.  I have got lost in transition, feeling like my bike evaporated.  I also rode the Olympic bike portion in the Sprint tri at San Diego Tri Classic in 2015.  I climbed well up the dreaded hill on the Navy Base, came down fast to the bike intersection between the Sprint and Olympic courses, was confused by the officials, and went the wrong way.  I knew almost immediately, and asked a Navy volunteer if I could turn around to head back to the finish, but he said “You’re already here, just go up again.”  I knew my chances at placing were done, so I had to kind of laugh and just keep going. My thoughts changed to “Hmm, I wonder how fast of a 5k can I do after an Olympic bike?”  And “I wonder how my bike split will compare to those in the Olympic race?”  Mistakes like that, we can beat ourselves up over, or use as lessons for future races.

Craig: You raced USA Triathlon National Championships in Milwaukee in 2015 and in Omaha in 2016.  What were your experiences like at Nationals?

Holly: Getting to Milwaukee in 2015 was a miracle itself.  My husband was deployed, and I didn’t have anyone else to watch our kids in San Diego.  So, I threw it out on Facebook, a month before the race, that I’d pay a friend to come with me and the kids.  A friend of a friend of a friend lived in Milwaukee, and offered to babysit for the race.  I learned the complexities of pushing a stroller, while pulling a bike case and bags through the airport, but got there.  The sitter was INCREDIBLE!  She entertained the kids while I anxiously bounced around prior to the start. Then she and the kids were smiling at every entrance and exit, cheering and taking pictures the entire race.  If you want to make a race-mom happy, that’ll do it!  The whole day was surreal, and turned into the best race of my life.

In 2016, I had a similar childcare dilemma, but my dad offered to watch the kids in Oregon.  So, we flew up there, I stayed a few days, then flew to Omaha.  Since some of our crazy Tri Club members race in the Olympic plus Sprint race there, I decided I should too.  During the Olympic race, my wave started at 10:18 AM, into 86º water, with a heat index rising over 100º from the humidity.  I felt like I could die of heat exhaustion on the run.  I fought so hard, the last mile I had tunnel vision, and felt like passing out, but really wanted to push for a World’s spot.  I couldn’t walk straight after crossing the finish line, but finished around the top 1/3.  I was literally dragged straight into the medical tent and covered in ice bags.  I’m not quite sure what all went on in there, as I came out a little confused, with 2 medals, about 5 wet towels, and no sunglasses?  I gave back the extra medal, but my cool TCSD Rudy Project raffle sunglasses never showed up.  I certainly had second thoughts about racing again the next day.

Day 2 was the sprint race.  I hurt, and had no idea what was possible, so just went out to do my best.  Crazy enough, the race felt SO much better than the day prior. It started earlier in the day, and of course shorter, with less heat.  I ended up qualifying for the 2017 ITU Draft-Legal Sprint World Championships in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.  I am thrilled to go, and plan to bring my family to share this incredible experience.

Craig: I can’t wait to race with you in Rotterdam.  What athletic accomplishment are you the most proud of?

Holly: I would have to say, being the first-ever Women’s Oregon State Pole Vault Champion.  The year prior, I had asked our high school pole vault coach if I could try it, when no other girls did, and he surprisingly said “Yes!  It’s supposed to be an official event for women next year!”  That was huge news for Oregon, which is a big track state, so girls started vaulting everywhere.  I went 10′ that year, as “exhibition,” and qualified for the first ever women’s pole vault event at the adult USA Track and Field Nationals, along with 8 other Oregonians.  I tore my ACL at nationals, which was rather devastating, but had reconstructive surgery, and worked my butt off to compete again. The next season (1995), there were many girls fighting for the official state record, all hoping to be the first Oregon State Pole Vault Champion.  I got it with a vault of 11′!

Craig: Who has been the most influential person in your life?

Holly: My Mom.  She was a teacher, a huge proponent of math and sciences for women, a former track athlete, a good runner, a volunteer for many causes, and always very health and environmentally conscious.  She was always so supportive of my activities, not pushing me into, or away from any sport.  Even after I broke both arms pole vaulting, the week after that state meet, doctors told me I’d be done forever, but when I told her I didn’t want to give up, she supported me.  She taught me to be kind, avoid candy and sweets, eat my veggies, to reduce, reuse, recycle, and never leave a trace.  She passed away in 2006, after a 3 year battle with ALS.  She was training for a ½ marathon when diagnosed, and fought the most positive, courageous battle you could imagine.  There’s still no known cause or cure for ALS.  Though she is gone physically, I think of her every time I don’t “want” to do something, as it reminds me I “CAN.”  Thinking of her has carried me through my greatest achievements, and helped me raise my own children.  There are many disabled people in this world who would give anything to move.  Those of us who can, should take advantage of as many opportunities as we are able.

Craig: I’m sure a lot of people will want to contact you for your coaching services.  How can they contact you?

Holly:  Email works best:

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?


-Place in top 10 at 2017 ITU Sprint World’s in Rotterdam.

-Qualify for and compete at World’s in some countries I haven’t seen.

-Compete in Xterra World Championships in Maui.

-Do well in a full AquaBike Worlds (since my knees object to marathon/Ironman).

-Win sprint or Olympic distance any year at World’s (even if that’s age 95 and I’m the only one competing).

Craig: Holly, thank you for sharing your story.  And thank you for all you do for the TCSD.  In my mind, you are already on the top step of the podium.  Good luck in Rotterdam and beyond!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

Posted in 2017, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TCSD Conversation: December 2016 – Tim Price

Tim Price and son Oliver at a TCSD Aquathlon

Tim Price and son Oliver at a TCSD Aquathlon


TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent 

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with Tim Price who has given his heart and soul to the TCSD. Tim is our newly elected TCSD Events and Program Director.  We are so lucky to have Tim as he has been a central figure in putting on our very successful club races over the last couple of years.    

Craig: What sports did you participate in while growing up?   

Tim: I was born just outside of Cleveland, OH, and grew up in Bethlehem, PA, so growing up I played a lot of pond hockey. That’s something you don’t see in Southern California. It was fun. Although I fell through the ice once, because I thought it was thicker than it was. I had to walk home, over a mile, wet and in the snow from the gristmill pond. In high-school I wrestled. I wouldn’t say I was the worst, but I wasn’t threatening to win any State Championships, either. My coaches liked me, so they always put me in when it was a forfeit. Padded the stats nicely. I played football in high-school, too. I like to say that I practiced football, because I only played in blowouts. We were the state champs in 1991; we won our medals, picture in the paper, free trip to Florida, but I didn’t play one down in the championship game. I also ran occasionally around the Lehigh University cross country course with a friend, but never for time.  

Craig: How did triathlon originally get woven into your fabric?   

Tim: I used to work seven miles from home, and my then fiancé and I only had one car, so after work I’d run home. I’d been running off and on for years. I had a few routes that I’d run when I lived in OB, and this was a nice way to get back into running. A coworker of mine suggested that rather than run home with a 20 lb. backpack on, it’d be easier if I just rode a bike. My oldest brother was into cycling and gave me his old busted up bike from a recent accident. After a while of cycling to work, the same co-worker commented that since I was already running and cycling, why not do a triathlon. So with no prior experience, I signed up for the 2008 Imperial Beach Sprint. 

Craig: What was your first triathlon like?   

Tim: The most interesting thing about my first tri is that I didn’t know how to swim. I used to swim to the buoy and back when I lived in OB, but I didn’t really know how to properly swim. Again this was the Imperial Beach Triathlon, sprint distance. 16:56 swim, 38:25 bike, 27:02 run. I was an impressive 412 overall, out of 522. I doggie-paddled a lot during that swim. I felt like I was going to drown. The bike felt fine, until a guy on a mountain bike and wearing board shorts passed me. I’d never run off the bike before, so that was the slowest 5K I’d ever run. I really didn’t understand why my legs weren’t working. I was such a beginner that when my then fiancé and I were scouting out the transition areas before the race, I was impressed by the people who brought buckets of water to rinse their feet in before the bike. I really thought I was learning something there. 

Craig: Now that you’ve been in the sport for a few years, what is your favorite distance and what has been your favorite destination race?  

Tim: The 70.3 is my favorite distance, because each segment is a good length for me. Even when I’m out by myself, these are the distances that fit me. I started with mud-run/bootcamp races, in Camp Pendleton and in MCRD, and transitioned to adventure races like the Tough Mudder and Spartan Races. I can carry logs and swim though ice-baths with the best of them. I’ve done a lot of running distances, 5K up to a marathon. My first marathon was the 2015 Two Cities Marathon in my wife’s hometown of Fresno, and there is a particular intersection that I will always remember fondly as the place where I sat in the street and threw-up. Finally, though, the 70.3 is where I’m most comfortable.  

I’ve done a 70.3 every year over the last five years, including Oceanside twice, as well as Chula Vista and Wildflower. Wildflower was gorgeous. I should probably say that Wildflower was my favorite, because the backside of nasty-grade was the fastest I’ve ever gone on a bike, and of course being Wildflower, I saw some boobies on the run course. My favorite destination race, however, is Silverman 70.3. It is the prettiest course I’ve seen, the best race course and the best ride. I was in Las Vegas last month, and redid the run course just because I liked it so much. I didn’t swim, because it was too damned cold. 

Craig: What are your favorite parts of a triathlon?  

Tim: My two favorite parts of any triathlon are the first 100 meters and the last 100 meters. The first 100 meters because it’s full contact and aggressive. It reminds me of my high school wrestling days. I’m not the fastest swimmer, but I always take the most aggressive line. The last 100 meters for, well, obvious reasons. I’m finally done. Onward to the beer tent. 

Craig: What athletic accomplishment are you most proud of?   

Tim: Probably the most impressive athletic accomplishment of mine is when a friend and I completed 600 burpees in an hour. My buddy owns a gym downtown and invited me to join him for this weekly one hour workout that he does with a group of retired navy seals. Earlier that week, another retired seal became a YouTube celebrity for doing 3,000 burpees in a row. So inspired by that nutcase, we all decided that we were going to do 10 burpees a minute for an hour. For those slower at math, that is 600 burpees in an hour. It was ridiculous. There were 30 of us, facing one another in a circle. No one cheated. You couldn’t. Another thing you couldn’t do was brush your teeth for a week afterward. It’s good that I keep my hair short, because I couldn’t have combed it, either.  

Craig: What are the best benefits of being a TCSD member?   

Tim: The consistency and number of weekly workouts we offer is definitely one of the best benefits. The coaching is outstanding. The JCC (now La Jolla High) technique workouts really helped me improve my swim. The track workouts, too. I’ve really gained speed there. Bill Gleason’s open water swim workout is by far my favorite coached workout that the club offers. Not only is he a good coach, and it a good workout, but it mimics race conditions and prepares you for the race. These race-simulation workouts eliminate pre-race jitters, because you’ve trained in the same environment as the race itself. Being able to eliminate the jitters is a big advantage over other non-TCSD members. 

Craig: How did you get involved as a volunteer for the TCSD?   

Tim: One night after a Friday night swim at the La Jolla Cove, a few of us went out to eat. Steve Banister was there, and I said for maybe the 3rd time that I am willing to help, or do whatever needed. Once he’d become club President, I’d really started to pay attention to the volunteers and a few of the more noticeable people on the board. They were making changes. Improving the club. It really encouraged me, and I wanted to give back to the club, too, for all that it gave me. Steve offered me the position of being John Hill’s assistant, and I have been Assistant Timer ever since. That was four years ago. At the end of 2015, Jim Johnson stepped down from Triathlon Director, and Jay Lewis asked me to step in. So then I became Triathlon Director as well as Assistant Timer. Now of course I’ve successfully campaigned for, and been elected to, the Board position of Events Director. I won by a landslide. It’s almost as if I was running unopposed. 

Now that I have everyone’s attention, this may be a good time to let everyone know that the positions of Assistant Timer and Triathlon Director are officially available to anyone interested. It wasn’t actually my goal to collect every position offered to me, but so far I haven’t let any of them go. 

Craig: You were recently elected to be the TCSD Events and Program Director.  What are your tasks in that role?  

Tim: My primary goals are to get more members to attend each event and to promote the club to prospective members. We are pulling permits for much larger groups than are actually attending each event, and it’s my own personal goal to fill the events to capacity. We can all agree that heavily attended events are much more fun and much more competitive. This year I plan on introducing new events to increase interest, and I plan on amping up the give-aways for those who attend the races, as well as for those who follow my email announcements in Yahoo! Groups. I’ve started hiring food trucks for events after it was brought to my attention that members were interested in mixing it up, and they’ve already created interest. 

I would really like to challenge every club member to bring a friend with you to the next couple of events you attend. Encourage them to come see what the club has to offer. Maybe I’ll find a give-away specifically for them, too. 

Of course those aren’t my official duties. If you were to ask the Board, my duties would include creating the calendar of upcoming events, obtaining permits and securing locations for those events, procuring caterers for after the races.  A lot of that kind of thing, which is never ending. I’m also still on Assistant Timer and Triathlon Director duty. But enough of that. Follow my emails, and bring a friend to your next event. We’ll be sure to make them feel welcome. 

Craig: What has been your reward as a volunteer for the TCSD over the years?  

Tim: It is a great feeling of accomplishment. You have that feeling of accomplishment after a race, and you have that same feeling after putting together an event. You always want to do your best for the people who attend events, you don’t volunteer hoping to do a mediocre job, but there are some days when you think it was just “okay” or that you goofed something. On those days when members go out of their way to thank you for what an outstanding job you did, it feels just as good as finishing a race. You had given them a really fun day, and that makes you feel just as good as winning your age group.  

Craig: Tim, you have done such a great job with everything you’ve touched with the TCSD.  I’d say you have won your age group every time!  What was the genesis of getting Kai to run for President?   

Tim: After Steve Banister left the Presidency, I lost that engaged feeling with the Board and the volunteers. I didn’t feel as connected with any part of the work that was being done, outside of what my own duties were. Honestly I don’t know what created this difference, but Kai and I would talk, and he felt the same way. 

Now Kai is an interesting guy. He doesn’t come across as outgoing at first, which puts him in a funny position because he’s the most well known guy in the club. He’s the most noticeable guy in the club, too. Although everyone he meets quickly learns where his interest lies. They can see and hear his love for the club and the sport.  Kai attends every event, and I think that kind of presence is really important to members. He lives and breathes triathlon and TCSD. I don’t think he’s even heard of football or baseball, but at this point it’s in our best interest to make sure he’s kept in the dark. After his family, the club has to be his first love. 

So Kai and I would talk. It was very easy to see that he cared about the club and that he wanted to see improvements. I can’t say that I was the first to think of the idea of him running for President; that no one had thought of it before, including Kai himself, but I really thought he’d do a good job. I thought that he’d put everything he had into it. So one day I told him to run. I mentioned it another time or two. One day I called Tim Kadel and asked what he thought of Kai running for President. I told him to put the bug in Kai’s ear about it, too.  

Then Kai turned around and did the same thing to me. Two hours before the deadline to apply for Board positions, he talked me into running for Events and Programs. I talked to Jay Lewis first, because he was the current Director, and I thought he was doing a good job. I wouldn’t have run against him. As it is, I got off easy because I ran unopposed. 

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you like to change?   

Tim: I’d like to make more events accessible to more athletes. I know exclusivity is what attracts a lot of athletes to races like Kona and the Boston Marathon, but it’d be nice to find a way to include more athletes without taking away from that exclusivity. There are a lot of people who really love triathlon and who will never be able to race some of the more epic races or other World Championship events. Basically, everyone who becomes a triathlete gets the question from friends: “Have you ever done that one in Hawaii?” It would be nice if every triathlete could say yes to that.  

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals? 

Tim: I would like to run a sub 3 hour marathon and a sub 1.25 half marathon one day, as well as a sub 5 hour 70.3 and a full iron man. My wife would say more destination races. 

Craig: Tim, thank you for sharing your story.  You have brought a lot of happiness to our members over the years.  Good luck in tackling all your future goals.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

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